Tuesday, April 1, 2014

1978 Alfa Romeo Alfasud Giardiniera - Restored and in the US! (Not An April Fools Joke!!)

Remember the diesel engined Alfa 6 I posted a month ago? This Alfasud being offered by the same guy. If I gave away "Car Geek of the Month" awards, this guy would win it for the month of March.

On paper, the Alfasud was a thoroughly modern car and, arguably, better than any of its competition.

Alfa Romeo introduced the small, FWD, Alfasud in 1971. Conceived by Rudolph Hurska, who had worked with Volkswagen, Porsche, Cistilia and Alfa Romeo previously, the Alfa Romeo Alfasud was a brilliant piece of packaging and engineering. The body was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro. The engine is a 1.2 liter, water cooled, OHC flat 4. The suspension has struts up front and a rigid rear axle located longitudinally by Watts linkage and transversely by Panhard rod. It has disc brakes all around, the front brakes being inboard. With a low center of gravity, it handled incredibly well.

But, as we've seen before, being great on paper doesn't always translate to being great in the real world. While virtually everyone agreed that the Alfasud was a brilliant, fun to drive car, build quality left a lot to be desired. A whole lot.

In exchange for a 360 billion lire government loan, Alfa agreed to build the Alfasud near Naples. It seemed like a great plan. Alfa got a new factory and the Italian government increased employment in southern Italy, where unemployment was considerably higher than it was in the north.

The problem was, there was no car manufacturing tradition in southern Italy. Many of the workers had never owned a car, let alone built one. Many were farmers who would disappear for weeks at a time - often to work their farms - whenever they had earned enough money in the factory. Initial build quality was awful.

Build quality was the least of the car's problems. The Alfasud rusted like no other car rusted. Rust could strike anywhere, often within months of the car leaving the showroom. The reasons for all the rust were plenty... Cheap Soviet steel is often the reason pointed out first. That's true, but Alfa, recognizing the rust problem early on, tried to fix it by filling the the car with a foam "rustproofing." The problem with that was, the foam held moisture and actually contributed to the rust problems. On top of that, unfinished bodies were often stored outdoors, exposed to the elements.

The 'Sud could have been the huge success the then independent Alfa Romeo needed. Despite its build quality and rust issues, it got rave reviews from the automotive press throughout its life. Those reviews helped Alfa sell close to 900,000 Alfasuds. A decent number, but far less than Alfa (and the Italian government) expected. Very few Alfasuds survive today.

Somehow, this one not only survived, but found its way to the United States. Like the seller's Alfa 6, this car spent some time at a shop in Germany, where it received a complete restoration.

The seller writes, "Being an Alfa Romeo it had to have some rust and even though it was in fantastic shape for an Alfasud it did have some. Thank goodness, the rear hatch was in excellent shape, but the Sud needed fenders, rocker panels and rear quarters." The body was stripped and redone with a combination of OEM parts, aftermarket parts and patch panels.

The engine was here in the US (not sure how it was here, but the seller says it was originally going to be used in an ultralight plane) and shipped to Germany to be installed.

The interior was redone. It's not original, but looks great.

Alfasuds in general are rare these days and the Giardiniera (station wagon) is extremely rare. The seller believes this the only Giardiniera in the US. I have no reason to doubt that.

This is a great piece of Alfa history. I hope someone from the East Coast buys it. I'd love to see it at car shows this summer.

Located in Riverside, CA, click here to see the eBay listing.

4 comments:

bluetoes591 said...

An Alfasud engine is a bizarre choice, especially in North America, but flat engines are very common in small aircraft. Not just Lycoming aircraft engines, Subaru and VW engines are quite common in home built aircraft.

French Driver said...

Looks pretty good. Never seen an Alfasud station wagon in Europe before. I remember that car was popular offering a lot of zoom zoom from a famous nameplate but the build quality killed it. Did not know it used Russian steel. Compare to old Volvos still running around to this day built with strong Swedish steel. Hope this car stays on the West Coast so I can get to see it.

Max Power said...

In the 70's as a kid I used to spend my summers in Italy and over half of the time was spent in my father's hometown in Southern Italy. As you can imagine, Alfasuds were plentiful to say the least but the Giardiniera...not so much....umm...not at all actually as I do not ever remember seeing one in person. The only reason why I knew they existed was in the price books of the Italian car magazines and my copy of 1977 World Cars (I wish I still had that!!!!). And I have no idea why Alfa Romeo would build a wagon version based on the two door and not the four door...seems that they may have turned off some potential buyers then. But in any event, to have one in the US is unreal! I cannot imagine that there are many in general still left...I would venture less than 100.

Chris Keen said...

In the late 1990s, Fred diMatteo, who was the tech advisor to the AROC, curmudgeon, and Alfa nut, was building an ultralight plane powered by an Alfa flat 4. I don't think it was completed before he died, so this is probably that engine... nice to see it's being used.

Honestly, I think I'd be satisfied with the oddball points from owning a regular Alfasud, which is much better looking than the Giardiniera and can be had with 4 doors...